3 Low-Impact Types of Exercise That Relieve Stress While Building Strength
Looking for a less intense way to stay active? These gentle exercise methods bring the perfect balance of fitness and flow.
It’s not news that chronic stress can be detrimental to pretty much every facet of your health. What's more, not getting enough physical exercise can exacerbate stress, stealing the brain's ability to process and handle stressful times. The good news? Movement really can be an effective, natural remedy. And you don't need to hire a personal trainer or crush a bootcamp workout to reap the stress-busting benefits of exercise.
There are certain types of restorative exercise out there that, among other fabulous benefits (like building balance and quieting the mind), prioritize the breath and increase your oxygen intake. This in turn helps quiet the stress-induced nervous system. It’s time to stop living on adrenaline and stress and start focusing on breathing and moving. Incorporate these three healthy, recuperative types of exercises into your routine to quiet your mind, strengthen your body, and start feeling a little less stressed.
You know walking is good for you—but why, exactly? Turns out, its benefits reach far beyond being a pleasant activity. For one, walking allows your body and mind to relax through increased circulation. Even a brisk, 10-minute walk can improve your mood and calm your body, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Walking is also low-impact, requires no additional equipment, and can be easily adjusted to suit your intensity preference.
Proper walking form is important not only for injury prevention, but for results. Here, a few key walking pointers from Nicole Simonin, a personal trainer and ACE-certified health and fitness coach.
Engage your core and glutes.
Many people complain of low back pain when walking. One good way to fix this is to “pull your navel in towards your spine and squeeze your glutes,” Simonin says.
Mind your feet.
Foot position is also important when walking. “If you look down and your toes are pointing out to the sides (duck walking), you’re probably going to experience knee pain at some point,” Simonin explains. “Bringing those toes in so they’re facing in the direction you are going will help with aligning your body for better movement.”
Keep your head and neck aligned.
To reduce any forward hunching posture that can lead to neck pain, keep your head up and eyes forward while walking, recommends Harvard Health (that means try not to look down at your phone!).
Always wear the right shoes.
It’s imperative to get yourself sturdy shoes for walking and to make sure yours are no more than 6 to 8 months old, says Staci Alden, group fitness director at PRO Sports Club in Seattle. “Even with the best walking form, if your shoes aren’t right, then unfortunately form alone won’t help,” she says. (Think you might be wearing the wrong shoes for your workout? Here’s how to tell—and how to find the right pair.)
Yoga is an excellent way to promote relaxation, because it incorporates deep breathing into every movement. In the practice of yoga, the breath and body are almost always moving in tandem. “Yoga is a great way to focus on the present moment through the breath and to become more in tune with the body,” Simonin says.
For beginners, she recommends looking for shorter classes that don’t hold poses for too long and an instructor who offers modifications. “Like anything else, start slow and build up to the more challenging poses,” she says. (Simonin offers her own free yoga and stretching series here).
“The safest version of Yoga will be in-person with a trusted and knowledgeable yoga teacher because they’ll be able to give you direct feedback while you participate,” she says. But when in-person classes aren’t an option, Alden’s favorite virtual yoga classes include yoga on the WanderlustTV app, Glo, and Simply Yoga.
And if your budget has no room for another app or subscription these days, here are nine more ways to practice yoga for free.
3 Tai Chi
The fluid movements that characterize tai chi can soothe your body through range of motion. Tai chi can be traced back anywhere from 700 to 1,500 years ago to its roots as a complex, ancient Chinese martial art. This gentle yet intentional practice is low-impact, easy on joints, and incorporates both body and mind.
“There’s a very long list of benefits that a full tai chi experience provides—balance, strength, breath work, meditation, and overall control and connection of the body and mind,” Alden says. Tai chi has been found to improve psychological well-being be a valuable method for decreasing stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as improving energy, stamina, mood, and aerobic capacity. Some encouraging study analysis results also suggest that tai chi may help improve cardiorespiratory fitness in healthy adults.
The practice involves moving slowly and gently from one posture to the next (almost like a choreographed dance), leading to continuous range of motion and honing mental focus. While maintaining a sequence of moves is the ultimate goal, beginners can try basic tai chi movements like White Crane, Twist Step, and Strum the Harp. As with anything, it's hard to replace the value of high-quality, in person instruction—but you can absolutely try tai chi at home. Simonin recommends learning from this Tai Chi for Beginners video by BodyWisdom.